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Alfred Cortot

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Showing 1-25 of 408 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 19, 2010 7:41:42 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 15, 2014 5:30:51 PM PDT]

Posted on Jul 19, 2010 8:38:54 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Aug 12, 2010 2:39:28 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 19, 2010 8:52:55 AM PDT
D. M. Ohara says:
I agree: Cortot is unique. Especially in Chopin, Schumann and Franck.
As for his conducting, there is a Brahms Double Concerto with his trio partners Thibaut and Casals as soloists.

Posted on Jul 19, 2010 10:20:16 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 19, 2010 10:33:15 AM PDT
Mandryka says:
No one would listen to him because of his skill at hitting the right notes. But in terms of the skill to use tone and dynamics expressively, he's a master . His power to focus tone and dynamics and phrasing and voice leading and rhythm to express a psychological insight through the music, that's what makes him very special I think.

He must have had to work hard to develop the technique to play the stuff he specialised in - Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt. He even wrote a book on piano technique ("Principes Rationnels de la Technique Pianistique"). But even though he bit off Saint Saens Etude, technique is never in the foreground -- "Un art qui se reclame de sa technique est un art déjà condamné" he wrote.

Technique (hitting the right notes fast) deteriorated in later years no doubt. But the later recordings are never (I think) and embarrassment - even the Beethoven and Chopin Scherzos on youtube. He's not like Maria Calllas. And some of the later recordings (the Chopin Nocturnes, the Schumann Etudes, the Munich Chopin Op 28) are miraculous.

In Chopin and Schumann everything he did has to be heard. Sound quality - on Biddulph and Naxos - is often excellent. Maybe Chopin Op 10 and Op 28 are the summit - the recordings from the 30s. But with an artist of this stature, with so much that is valuable, it is hard to talk of summits.

I'm very fond of his first recording of Debussy Preludes (gloriously remastered on Biddulph); I love his Weber sonata. And his Mozart K475.

Shame we don't have more acoustic or electric recordings of Fauré Nocturnes, and Brahms - strange he never recorded late Brahms.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 19, 2010 1:54:27 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 22, 2011 2:05:50 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Thanks for your post, Eddie. The island named Cortoshima was given to Cortot by the Japanese imperial family on his last tour there, in 1952 I believe. In the Japanese ideographs, "Cortoshima" translates to "Hermit in the Island of Dreams". He did indeed conduct the French premiere of Goetterdaemmerung, also Parsifal after serving as assistant conductor and repititeur in Bayreuth, and also incredibly the French premiere of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, as well as of Brahms's German Requiem.

He and Landowska were close friends, both exactly five feet tall, like Maurice Ravel and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. Landowska and Cortot played piano duets together to inaugurate her new concert hall at St. Leu. The only competition I know for his Archduke with Casals and Thibaud is the Feuermann-Heifetz-Rubinstein, a hard choice. But when Freddy Kempf recorded it with his trio recently, they began with an almost identical tempo.

It's sometimes forgotten that Cortot was born and died in Switzerland. He also held a ministerial position in the French government in the First World War, long before Vichy. His strong ties to German music and musicians led him to play there also until 1942, but he insisted then on donating his fees to French causes and also that he b e allowed to play for French prisoners of war in Germany. His initial reaction to the outbreak of the War in September 1939 was to cancel all his engagements, as he had earlier in Italy because of Fascism there.

Posted on Jul 22, 2010 1:38:37 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 6, 2014 10:29:24 AM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Here's more of what James Methuen-Campbell says about Alfred Cortot in his book "Chopin Playing":

"The Nocturnes capture Cortot in his most profound mood. All these performancea display a richness few other pianists have been able to achieve consistently. For example, the C-sharp minor Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 1, begins with some mysterious left-hand arpeggios, which are joined by a rising chromatic motif in the right hand. On the second page, when a middle voice is introduced, he seems to have three hands, and the effect of the different voices, each endowed with a life of its own, is astonishing. This playing has a quality that transcends normal music-making -- it is as if Cortot is revealing Chopin's soul." This is one of Cortot's most extraordinary records, hallucinatory in effect.

While he played almost all of Chopin, and recorded all the impromptus, ballades, etudes, waltzes, mazurkas, preludes, Fantasy in F-minor, two scherzos, two sonatas, one concerto, and miscellaneous pieces ... polonaise-fantasie, berceuse, barcarolle, tarantelle ... some several times, he also recorded many of Schumann's major works: Carnaval, Symphonic Etudes, Papillons, Sonata in G-minor, Arabesque, Prophet Bird, Des Abends, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, Davidsbundlertaenze, Dichterliebe, D-minor trio, and concerto. With his friends Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals he recorded trios by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, also Variations serieuses; Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata with Thibaud, two sets of cello variations and third sonata Op. 69 with Casals, and first concerto. Chausson Concert, Faure and Franck violin sonatas with Thibaud, Variations symphoniques, Prelude Fugue & Variation arranged by Harold Bauer from the organ original, Prelude Aria & Finale, Prelude Chorale and Fugue; Ravel concerto, Saint-Saens fourth concerto, Bach Brandenburg Five, conducted and recorded the other Brandenburg concertos, the earliest integral set except for Alois Melichar's; Liszt's sonata, 2nd and 11th Hungarian Rhapsodies, Leggierezza, Au bord d'une source and Chopin-Liszt song transcriptions.

Posted on Jul 22, 2010 2:14:33 PM PDT
Mandryka says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Jul 22, 2010 3:28:08 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
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Posted on Jul 22, 2010 10:04:36 PM PDT
Mandryka says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Jul 23, 2010 8:09:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 23, 2010 8:59:18 AM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Mandryka, I bought the Concert Hall tapes about 1985, after finding one volume of the Mazurkas at Rose Records. From the notes:

"This recording taped in 1954 has not been made available previously.... Cortot treats the composer's command (in the finale, 'As fast as possible" then 'Still faster') fairly seriously and makes a very brave effort to create the excitement that Schumann obviously wished to generate. As in the case of the F-sharp Minor Sonata Op. 11, the slow movement of Op. 22 is actually one of Schumann's earlier unpublished songs transcribed and re-worked into a movement of poignant delicacy. A short, pregnant, wholly original Scherzo follows, making way quickly for the Rondo-Finale. The original finale was rejected by Schumann and the substituted Rondo played here was composed some three years later. There is also an existing tape of Cortot playing the rejected movement (I don't have it), but it appears it was not his intention to include it in the performance of the sonata."

For me the best things in the Concert Hall tapes, identifiably played by Cortot, are the Andantino of the G-minor sonata, Chopin's Polonaise-Fantasie Op. 61 and Schumann's Arabesque, the coda of which is vintage Cortot. There is also a Franck Prelude, Variation and Fugue that is good but not as memorable.

Posted on Jul 23, 2010 8:30:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 23, 2010 8:56:01 AM PDT
Mandryka says:
The sonata is on youtube, here:

Is that the same as your cassette?

Thanks for drawing my attention to it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 23, 2010 8:56:02 AM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Mandryka, yes. A pleasure. Your servant!

Posted on Aug 4, 2010 10:16:31 AM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Several posters have recently mentioned the Chopin etudes in favorite versions, including specific etudes from the two complete sets Cortot recorded in 1933 and 1942 ... among them Op. 10 Nos. 8 and 9, and Op. 25 No. 5 (the "B" part and ending especially). Maybe there's more to be said about them, or some of his many other recordings.

I recently listened to his Schumann "Papillons", also Franck's "Prelude, Fugue and Variation" transcribed by Harold Bauer; "Prelude, Aria and Finale"; and "Prelude, Chorale and Fugue". Besides these are Franck's violin sonata with Jacques Thibaud, and "Variations symphoniques". In the latter and in "Papillons" I've never heard Cortot's equal, which makes it all the stranger that Charles Timbrell omitted him, Yves Nat, and Vladimir Sofronitsky from his historical survey of "Papillons" in the "New International Piano" magazine.

Posted on Sep 21, 2010 1:43:50 PM PDT
Mandryka says:
I found this today - I think it's authentic - certainly the best sounding Cortot I have heard

1. R. Schumann. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra or.54 (Part 1)
2. (2 nd and 3 rd movements)
Cortot and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Conductor F. Fricsay.
Recorded in 1951, Berlin
3. F. Chopin. Etude op.10 ¹ 5
4. F. Chopin. Etude op.25 ¹ 9
5. F. Chopin. Nocturne op.15 ¹ 2
6. F. Chopin. Waltz op.64 ¹ 2
7. F. Chopin. Waltz op.70 ¹ 1

Monaco 2.5.1954

8. F. Chopin. Waltz op.69 ¹ 1
9. F. Chopin. Valse op.64 ¹ 1
10. F. Chopin. Nocturne op.9 ¹ 2
11. F. Chopin. Berceuse op.57
Monaco 29.3.1957

Maybe you all know about it, but it was new to me, and a pleasant surpise.

Posted on Sep 21, 2010 2:24:32 PM PDT
John Ruggeri says:

Thanks for the Cortot info and for reviving this thread.


In reply to an earlier post on Sep 21, 2010 2:30:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 18, 2010 4:04:10 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Mandryka -- "Monaco" is Italian for Munich. At one of these recitals Cortot was photographed with Elly Ney. The 1951 Schumann concerto with Fricsay and the RIAS Orchestra is tremendous after the strange opening, and faithfully reproduces Cortot's tone. The next year in December of 1952 was when I saw him play an enormous recital in Frankfurt-am-Main. Many thanks for posting. It's really too bad that so few collectors nowadays know Cortot's records. They lose a great deal thereby. Every pianist of note knows them, you may be sure.

There's also a complete live Chopin preludes from Munich in 1955, with the "exploded" version of the "Raindrop Prelude" that is so strange.

Posted on Sep 22, 2010 5:47:35 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 22, 2010 5:48:01 AM PDT
Mandryka says:
You have them by the sound of it -- if not, let me know and I can mail you a copy of the CD.

Can you just spell out for me exactly how and where that Munich Op 28/15 is exploded? I'm feeling lazy and I don't want to work it our for myself.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 22, 2010 6:54:30 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 18, 2010 4:05:10 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Mandryka -- In the "B" section of Cortot's 1955 live "Raindrop" prelude, starting with the menacing left-hand ascending chords in horn-harmonies, he builds to a tremendous (and unwritten) climax almost to a point of hysteria, then decrescendos with his patented bass rumbles like receding distant thunder before taking up the rather treacly first theme again. Hard to miss. In his wartime recording he does a bit of this, but not to the same degree. I find it absolutely fascinating that he would risk it in a live performance.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 26, 2010 3:26:15 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Mandryka (We two must at all cost keep Alfred Cortot's name to the fore until others discover him ... although opinions naturally vary, there is not one professional or concert pianist who does not know Cortot). Were you able to find the "Downspout" Prelude and its astonishing and unwritten climax?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2010 12:17:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 27, 2010 12:20:32 AM PDT
Mandryka says:

I think I have heard most Cortot on record now -- but not the Albeniz.

One thing I never managed to get through was "Aspects de Chopin", maybe because his French is a bit poetic (I have to have the dictionary nearby) , maybe because he rambles a bit and is rather anecdotal.

I must pick it up again -- I put it aside in the middle of a chapter about Chopin's hands.

Have you read the paper he wrote on Fauré? -- I'd like to read this because I like Fauré's music.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2010 8:53:47 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Feb 7, 2011 2:48:29 PM PST
Edgar Self says:
Cortot recorded three Albeniz pieces, two of them more than once. And "Triana" from "Iberia" once, unissued until Peter Biddulph's CD. "Aspects of Chopin" is published in an English translation. I've read his paper on Faure, and also their letters in which Faure complains that Cortot doesn't play his works enough. Cortot's last pupil Thomas Manshardt called his book about his studies with Cortot "Aspects of Cortot". It's in legible Canadian.

Unfortunately the sole book-length biography of Cortot is published only in French. It's by Bernard Gavoty, concert organist and critic of "Le Figaro", who once won a lawsuit brought against him by pianist Stanislas Niedzielski on account of unfavourable reviews. I heard Niedzielski play in Bad Nauheim and had his LP of Chopin etudes. Gavoty was right. There is another Gavoty book about Cortot published in several languages by Rene Kister in Geneva. It's largely a book of Roger Hauer's photos of Cortot, with text by Gavoty. Some revealing photos, playing four-hand piano with Edwin Fischer and Furtwaengler. I would like to have heard that. After the war Cortot toured South America with his old friend and student Magda Tagliaferro, playing duets with her.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2010 5:07:26 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 24, 2011 6:00:50 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
September 27 was the 133rd anniversary of the birth in Nyon, Switzerland. of this great pianist, Alfred Denis Cortot. He died in Lausanne on June 15, 1962, in his 85th year.

Cortot made his first records in 1902, aged 25, accompanying dramatic soprano Felia Litvinne who that year sang in the Paris premiere of "Goetterdaemmerng" with Cortot conducting. They lost a bundle. His last recordings and public appearances were in 1958, in Italy, and with his old friend Pablo Casals at the Prades Festival that year. Fortunately their performances were recorded and have now been issued in A&E's Prades Festival series: Beethoven's third sonata for cello and piano, Op. 69; and variations on Mozart's "Bei Maennern, welche Liebe fuehlen" from "Die Zauberfloete"with some extremely fine and beautifully playing. The solo piano variation is truly breath-taking.

Erno von Dohnanyi and Wanda Landowska were born the same year of 1877 (as of 1879 in Landowska's case, but in my student days her year of birth was always given as 1877, and Artur Rubinstein's as 1886. Later both years began to creep up, Rubinstein's eventually reaching 1891).

Posted on Oct 18, 2010 4:15:35 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Mandryka recently mentioned Cortot's playing of the first book of Debussy's preludes, which he recorded twice, once before and once after WWII. The later version was issued with a transcendently beautiful Schumann "Kinderszenen", with a particularly magical and mesmerising "Child Falliing Asleep" and final piece, "The Poet Speaks" (at last!). He was an extraordinary player. I know almost no other pianist like him, except Vladimir Sofronitsky and Benno Moiseiwitsch in certain pieces.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2010 11:28:47 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 18, 2010 11:29:51 PM PDT
Mandryka says:
I prefer the earlier Debussy recording, though for some reason it's harder to find (I have it on Biddulph)

Listened to a late recording (on APR) of the Chopin Berceuse the other day. Very good. Everyone praises Solomon, and Solomon's very polished and rhythmically persuasive -- but Cortot's got something very special there.

Friedman is interesting in the Berceuse. Cradle in a storm.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 19, 2010 12:15:12 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 19, 2010 12:16:52 AM PDT
John Ruggeri says:
Some performances of Chopin's Berceuse.

Alfred Cortot plays Chopin: Berceuse { 1926 }

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849):
Berceuse in D flat major opus 57 (1843)
Mieczys³aw (Miecio) Horszowski (1892-1993), piano
Recorded in 1940 - This is the first thing i have heard by him were he isn't at leat 80.

Michelangeli plays Chopin Berceuse Op.57 { 1942 }

Rubinstein plays Chopin Berceuse op.57

Paderewski plays Chopin Berceuse Op 57

Chopin Berceuse Op 57 Rosenthal Rec 1930.wmv { I love his tone and phrasing }
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